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Understand Intensity

Understanding Exercise

Exercise guidelines demonstrate that for individuals with type 1 diabetes, aerobic exercise (examples: walking, jogging, and cycling) may lead to a decrease in glucose levels, whereas some anaerobic exercise (examples: sprinting and power-lifting) may lead to a rise in glucose levels. However, for some individuals, it can be difficult to know the exact intensity of an activity. Below, we show a modified “Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)” scale. Generally, aerobic activities may fall in the 2–8 range, and anaerobic activities may fall in the 7–10 range.

The type and intensity of exercise may impact glucose levels differently! Below, we describe the different intensities of physical activity and how they may impact your blood sugar levels. 


  • Glucose levels tend to drop with low-to-moderate intensity activity
  • Your body is using up energy, and as you use up the energy, you may experience low glucose levels
  • May need a snack before or during the activity to prevent lows


  • A combination of low and high-intensity activity (sometimes in short bursts or intervals)
  • Mixed forms of exercise are typically associated with an attenuated drop in glucose levels (moderating effect)
  • May still need a snack before or during the activity to prevent lows


  • Very explosive, high-intensity, or anaerobic exercise may cause glucose levels to rise
  • Maximum effort activity (to fatigue) can cause liver glucose output to be greater than glucose uptake from muscles
  • Increases in stress hormones (examples: adrenaline or stress) in the body may cause glucose levels to rise
Below, we give examples of light-, moderate-, and vigorous-intensity activity for youth and adults living with diabetes. 

Intensities of Activity


Light-Intensity Activities (Activities of Daily Living/ADL's):

Walking to/from school

Walking in between classes


Moderate-Intensity Activities

Physical education (PE) class activities

Playing on the playground





Ultimate frisbee

Vigorous-Intensity Activities

Beep test at school (sprinting)

Mile run at school

Tag (a school game involving one or more players chasing other players in an attempt to "tag" and mark them out of play)

Intensities of Activity


Light-Intensity Activities (Activities of Daily Living/ADLs):


Getting groceries

Cutting the grass


Doing laundry

Moderate-Intensity Activities

Walking briskly (2.5 miles per hour or faster)

Recreational swimming

Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour on level terrain

Tennis (doubles)

Active forms of yoga (for example, Vinyasa or power yoga)

Exercise classes like water aerobics

Vigorous-Intensity Activities


Bicycling faster than 10 miles per hour

Tennis (singles)


Adolfsson P, Taplin CE, Zaharieva DP, Pemberton J, Davis EA, Riddell MC, McGavock J, Moser O, Szadkowska A, Lopez P, Santiprabhob J, Frattolin E, Griffiths G, DiMeglio LA. ISPAD Clinical Practice Consensus Guidelines 2022: Exercise in children and adolescents with diabetes. Pediatr Diabetes. 2022 Dec;23(8):1341-1372. doi: 10.1111/pedi.13452. PMID: 36537529; PMCID: PMC10107219.

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Zaharieva DP, Morrison D, Paldus B, Lal RA, Buckingham BA, O'Neal DN. Practical Aspects and Exercise Safety Benefits of Automated Insulin Delivery Systems in Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes Spectr. 2023 May;36(2):127-136. doi: 10.2337/dsi22-0018. Epub 2023 May 15. PMID: 37193203; PMCID: PMC10182962.